Review + Giveaway: Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy

Rating: 5 stars
Release Date: May 9, 2017
Publisher: Balzer & Bray
Genre: young adult realistic fiction, contemporary romance
Format/Source: ARC, ALA mw conference
Status: standalone

Ramona was only five years old when Hurricane Katrina changed her life forever.

Since then, it’s been Ramona and her family against the world. Standing over six feet tall with unmistakable blue hair, Ramona is sure of three things: she likes girls, she’s fiercely devoted to her family, and she knows she’s destined for something bigger than the trailer she calls home in Eulogy, Mississippi. But juggling multiple jobs, her flaky mom, and her well-meaning but ineffectual dad forces her to be the adult of the family. Now, with her sister, Hattie, pregnant, responsibility weighs more heavily than ever.

The return of her childhood friend Freddie brings a welcome distraction. Ramona’s friendship with the former competitive swimmer picks up exactly where it left off, and soon he’s talked her into joining him for laps at the pool. But as Ramona falls in love with swimming, her feelings for Freddie begin to shift too, which is the last thing she expected. With her growing affection for Freddie making her question her sexual identity, Ramona begins to wonder if perhaps she likes girls and guys or if this new attraction is just a fluke. Either way, Ramona will discover that, for her, life and love are more fluid than they seem.

Guys. GUYS. I reeeeeeeeaaaaaaaally liked Ramona Blue. There's just something about Julie Murphy's writing that hits me in my heart and makes me FEEL it. Her books are devastatingly lovely and filled to the brim with bare truths about life.

Before I dive into my review (huh. Dive in. Pun not intended, but it's delightful so I'm keeping it), I do want to address the controversy that arose several months ago regarding the initial summary for the book. I know many people were hurt by the suggestion that Ramona, who is a lesbian, just needed a man (Freddie) to "fix her". Although as a straight woman, I can't speak for the representation in this book for either lesbians or bi women, I can tell you that at no time in the book does any character voice that opinion EXCEPT for one who is shouted down by others as being harmful, out of touch, and rude. At no time does Ramona believe she is suddenly heterosexual, and at no point does she or any other character voice the opinion that it is the "correct"  or "normal" way to be. Instead, throughout the book, Ramona examines her own identity as she tries to make sense of the changes in her life. She does identify as a lesbian, but as her feelings for Freddie change and develop, she's unsure what label to use. I'm trying not to be super spoilery because I think many people will want to read and experience this for themselves, but I understand many readers are also hesitant because they're afraid of this book causing them harm. I completely understand that, and I would recommend you check in with lesbian and bi bloggers who will have own voices points of view in their reviews.

Disclaimer 2: I'm reviewing & using quotes from the ARC, and I do know that the finished book has changed. When the book releases, I'm going to go through & double check my quotes. I know some of what changed, story wise, so I tried not to talk on those parts so as to not give misinformation. 

So what's so amazing about Ramona Blue? Honestly, what ISN'T amazing about Ramona Blue would be the quicker question because it's all fantastic, and it contains so many facets of life that have thus far been underrepresented in YA. For example, Eulogy is one of those tiny coastal towns still reeling from Hurricane Katrina years after the fact, and most of the residents are living in poverty. Ramona, her pregnant sister, and dad live in a tiny FEMA trailer in a park where all the roads are so torn up, it's easier for the residents not to park by their homes, although Ramona definitely doesn't have a car and bikes or walks everywhere. Ramona Blue shows what life is like for teens who live in poverty, what a struggle it is for families to keep up with bills and have time to spend together. Ramona's parents are divorced, and she, her sister, and her dad all work to support one another. When her sister Hattie's boyfriend moves in and doesn't help with bills, it's a huge burden on their family, especially when considering Hattie's pregnancy. And family is a HUGE part of the story. There's Ramona's relationship with her sister and dad; her very complicated relationship with her mom, who walked out on the family and still lives on the fringes. Freddie and his grandparents. Saul and Ruth's relationship as siblings and their relationship with their parents. Adam's family. So many diverse kinds of families and different dynamics are represented.

And what's the topic that always comes up with high school seniors? College. The assumption in our society today is that if you're a senior in college, you'll be applying to schools and heading off to college. With Ramona's family's condition, she doesn't feel like she has opportunities for education post-high school, and while my heart broke, I also loved reading Julie explore this topic. I love that Julie includes different options, including community college. There's nothing wrong with going to Harvard or Yale if you're able, but there is also absolutely nothing wrong with going to a community college, whether or not you're financially able to attend a 4-year university. I love love love love love that community colleges and 4-year universities alike are presented as viable options for continued education. Brava, Julie!

I don't know about you, but I've read a lot of books about rich teens and their families and even more books about teens and their families living in the middle class. I haven't read so many books about teens and families living at or below the poverty line. While this is certainly an indication I'm not reading as widely as I certainly should, I do also think it reflects a lack of economically diverse books. I'm so thankful for books like Ramona Blue for bringing these struggles to the forefront of a story. If you'd like to learn more about YA books that deal with poverty as well as real life teens, please check out my friend Karen's blog Teen Librarian Toolbox. She's so eloquent in the way she examines poverty and economic struggles both in real life and in fiction.

Clearly Ramona Blue is representative of both lesbian and bi relationships, but it also includes an interracial relationship in the south. Freddie is black; Ramona is white. There are so many interracial relationships in real life, but there aren't many in YA. Because Ramona and Freddie hide their relationship from most other characters, there's not as much insight to how most other characters view them together (aside from other characters being surprised and even upset because of Ramona's label as one of the town's two lesbians), but there are some incredible moments where Freddie opens up about what it's like to be a black teenage boy living in the south. Like when they go swimming in a privately owned pool and almost have the cops called on them, Freddie tells Ramona that "sneaking onto private property is just some kind of stupid antic for you, but from where I stand, that's how black kids get shot" and that she "can't pretend to be colorblind ... when it's convenient for you ... You can't tell me that you don't see that my black life is not the same as your white life" (both quotes, ARC, page 155). And just... dang. For much of the book, Freddie's race ISN'T at the forefront. He's just... Freddie. He has freckles (*SWOON*) and cooks eggs and likes to swim. But scenes like this show readers, yes, Freddie is black, and that isn't something that should be forgotten. It's part of him, and for him, it's a HUGE part of him, even if Ramona doesn't always acknowledge how different their experiences are between white girl (even a tall blue haired lesbian) and black boy. I think that's important for readers because it's something our community is struggling with right this very minute: just because you have one marginalization doesn't mean you fully comprehend what it's like for another marginalization, and it's important to acknowledge those differences.

The last thing I want to say about Ramona Blue is the reason I love it so much, and that is that Ramona is one of the loveliest novels I've ever read. Like, Julie is just a really fucking talented writer. Her sentences give me shivers because they're honest and raw and exquisite. I'm kicking myself because I should have read this book with page flags so now I'm flipping through trying to find all the pretty parts.

Like: "Life isn't written in the stars. Fate is ours to pen. I choose guys. I choose girls. I choose people. But most of all: I choose" (ARC, page 271).

I'm made up of tiny pieces; scattered, they're nothing more than sharp edges. But all those pieces combined are what make me Ramona" (ARC, page 254 and I wish I could give more of this quote because the whole thing is AMAZING).

"I'm scared that somehow [Dad] might wilt away without Hattie or me here. But if I stay, I might just wilt away, too" (ARC, page 339).

"I'm her sister. I will always be here to pick up the pieces, but it's time I make some mistakes of my own" (ARC, page 374).

"And the rest? It's unknown. A great and beautiful question mark" (ARC, page 384).

This book is utterly beautiful, and I highly recommend it. Ramona Blue isn't about a lesbian who is turned straight. It's about a girl who feels too big for her town yet feels trapped there. It's about a girl who is discovering that it's okay to change how she views and identifies herself, despite the pressures other people place on her. It's about a girl who is trying to scope out a piece of this world for herself. It's funny and sweet, tender and raw, honest and real. Julie Murphy is a true talent in the world of YA, and she's a must-read, must-buy author for me. Definitely pick up this book!

More reviews:
For anyone who is looking for additional and more in-depth reviews about Ramona Blue, here are a few I recommend (linking to blogs/websites also, but the relevant reviews are the ones in bold):

Ava from Bookishness and Tea recently posted a thread on Twitter about her experience with Ramona Blue.

Author Dahlia Adler (Behind the Scenes, Just Visiting) was one of the first ACTUAL readers of Ramona Blue, and her review gives a great breakdown into the discussion of Ramona's sexuality.

Shelly of Read. Sleep. Repeat's review encompasses  her opinions both pre- and post-reading Ramona Blue that discusses both the primary plot points as well as the fluidity of sexuality.

Cait of A Page with a View has a super lovely and thoughtful review that touches on many of the amazing aspects of Ramona Blue.

Purchase Links:

About the Author:
Julie Murphy is a potty-mouthed Southern belle who was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, but found her home in Fort Worth, Texas. She's never seen Star Wars, but has yet to meet a made for TV movie she didn't love. When she's not writing, Julie can be found cruising Costco for free samples, watching Sister Act 2, stalking drag queens on instagram, obsessing over the logistics of Mars One, and forever searching for the perfect slice of cheese pizza. She lives with her bearded husband, two vicious cats, and one pomeranian that can pass as a bear cub. Ramona Blue is her third young adult novel.

Author Links:

Enter to win a signed & personalized hardcover of Ramona Blue + Ramona Blue swag from the release party!

Open to US. Entrants must be 13+. Giveaway is open until 12 AM CST May 2nd. Please enter via Rafflecopter below; winner will be chosen at random, and odds are determined by number of entries. I reserve the right to disqualify any entries that are not in accordance with my giveaway policies as stated in the Review & Site Policies tab at the top of the page.Good luck!

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  1. So excited about this book!! Dumplin' was one of my absolute favorites!

    1. Yes! Julie is such a talented writer. I can't wait to see what she's got next!

  2. I'm extremely interested to see how the main character deals with the situation! Also i'm very happy to see that Julie touches on economic difficulties!

    1. Right? So few YA books touch on economic issues; I'm so glad 2017 titles seem to be exploring characters of varying socioeconomic statuses.

  3. wow does this character have so much thrown at her. This is going to be emotional and therefore fun to read for me. I will savour this book as the author's words bring out each emotion. I am very curious how this character comes to term with her feelings.

    1. It seems like a lot, but it's just life. I promise Julie handles everything superbly!

  4. AHa I am quite excited for this! I was initially apprehensive but after reading your review, I am quite excited for it! I hope the premise does justice to the book and that I enjoy it as much as you seemed to have! Thank you for the fantastic review!

    xx Anisha @ Sprinkled Pages

    1. Thanks for reading, Anisha! I hope you do give it a chance, and that you love it!

  5. This looks very emotional but really well done. I enjoyed Dumplin' too!

    1. It's soooo good! And yes, Dumplin is awesome. I can't wait for the companion!

  6. I love Julie so much and I'm so excited about this!!

    1. Yaaaay! I hope it's everything you want it to be!

  7. This book sounds amazing! The reviews I've read all praise it. Can't wait to read it.

  8. Your review has made me curious! I'll definitely check this book out :) It sounds wonderful!

    Brittany @ Brittany's Book Rambles

    1. Thanks, Brittany! I hope you give it a shot!